Recent article on Toronto Star:
Homecoming from New York `jungle'
Naida Cole doesn't get many chances to visit her hometown these days, but this afternoon happens to be one of them, when she joins her fellow pianist David Jalbert on the stage of the CBC's Glenn Gould Studio in a concert celebrating what would have been Gould's 72nd birthday.
Gould was not Cole's kind of pianist, to say the least. He hated giving concerts. She thrives on them. He also hated French music, for the most part, as well as the showy pieces of Franz Liszt. She adores both.
It was Liszt's virtuosic Mephisto Waltz with which she wowed her listeners last month at La Jolla Summerfest, one of the best musical reasons for visiting Southern California in the dog days of August. The occasion was the festival's annual benefit gala, at which patrons pay pots of money for the privilege of listening to music and dining in one of that affluent waterfront community's handsomest homes.
On this occasion, Joan and Irwin Jacobs actually added a concert hall-ballroom to their cliff-high residence to accommodate Cole, violinist and festival director Cho-Liang Lin and their chamber music-making colleagues. With patrons like that, what festival wouldn't attract attention?
Before that concert "I played with Jimmy (as Lin is known by his friends) in Dallas two or three years ago," the native Torontonian and Royal Conservatory alumna explained, "and he suggested coming out to the festival. I'm only disappointed I can't play more. There are such great musicians here."
There are even more in New York, of course, as well as more contacts for someone trying to build a career, which is why Cole packed up her bags two years ago and moved from the capital of Ontario to the Big Apple.
"It wasn't an easy move," she admitted.
"I felt I had moved to the jungle. It was loud, dirty and everybody was in your face. My first apartment was a disaster. My landlady ripped the sink out of her bathroom when she got angry and there was water dripping through the ceiling. I couldn't even sleep the first year, with the noise going on until 1 a.m..
"But things happen because you are in New York. You make contacts. I'd bump into Jimmy and he'd say, `Let's go to a concert together.'"
Lin has turned out to be one of her more valuable contacts. The two musicians are teaming up to make an album for Naxos of the music of Georg Tintner, the late conductor of the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra in Halifax and himself a former Naxos artist.
Now acclimatized to life in Manhattan, Cole also travels the concert circuit from Japan to Eastern Europe.
"I moaned and complained to my family because of all the work," she said, laughing.
She has even toured with superstar violinist Gidon Kremer and his ensemble Kremerata Baltica.
"(Kremer) doesn't sleep and he would always demand the highest level of performance," she said. "I'd never made music on such a consistently high level before. But after that experience I knew it was possible for me to do much more.
"I didn't understand before what it meant when people said no two performances are alike. With Gidon Kremer, it would be like night and day from performance to performance. I'd never met anyone who was so creatively intelligent."
Not that Cole herself is entirely lacking in smarts. Moving to Manhattan gave her the chance to study calculus at New York University: "I hadn't used my brain in such a long time it felt like blowing off the dust. It had been my favourite subject in school."
Between calculus classes, engagements and practising, she also runs. "In Toronto I'd often memorize while I was running. After I did a marathon I was hooked. André-Michel Schub (with whom she teamed up in La Jolla to play one of the pieces she will be playing with David Jalbert this afternoon, Maurice Ravel's La Valse) is a runner, too. We ran together ... along the beach.
"Running clears the brain. You can spend too much time practising. I came to realize I was practising to fill up time. Now I do only as much as I need. For a new program it can go up to eight hours, spread through the day.
"I have to like the way the music sounds to want to play it. I don't just choose intellectually. Although I don't have specific goals from the music I choose, I want to challenge myself.
"When I started to build a career I had no idea how it was to be a working pianist. I knew nothing about who had power, about having a good stage presence, meeting the right people. I didn't even know what a manager does."
And today? The pianist smiled: "I'm still feeling my way as I go. I'm still learning how things work."